Australia’s Harsh Refugee Policies Stirring Backlash; Malawi Court Sides With Pastors To Lift Moratorium on Sodomy Prosecutions; Uzbek President Says God Has Taken Gays’ Reason Away; Global LGBT Recap

The current issue of ILGA-Europe’s Destination EQUALITY magazine focuses on reconciling sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and religion. The magazine includes personal testimonies of LGBT Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists and an interview with Krzysztof Charamsa, the Polish priest and theologian who lost his job at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Vatican after coming out in October 2015.

From the introduction by Executive Director Evelyne Paradis:

Of course, for years, we have critiqued the institutions and structures built up around different faiths when their actions and statements have caused people direct pain. But we have overlooked the core beliefs that are at the heart of those institutions, as well as the common values that we might share. We have not sought to bridge the conversation on equality and the conversation on faith. By doing so, we gave space for messages telling people to pick ‘one side’ or ‘the other’ to abound. We allowed the idea that you cannot identify as LGBTI and have faith to fester. And as a result, we are guilty of having excluded a particular section of the LGBTI community, of causing LGBTI people of faith great difficulty by indirectly condoning the messages telling people they must tear away one very personal part of the fabric of their life.

Just because the LGBTI community wasn’t leading the conversation doesn’t mean that there was silence on the intersection of religion and beliefs, sexual orientation and gender identity. Far from it. And by not engaging with the issue for so long, we have also conceded ground to anti-equality groups who claimed that particular space with relish. It is all too common to hear that “it’s a battle of ‘gay versus god’”, that campaigns for LGBTI equality are essentially campaigns against religions, when this is simply not true.

…Ultimately, as a human rights organisation, it is also our role to reclaim the conversation around religion. We cannot perpetuate the idea that fundamental rights sit together in a hierarchical arrangement. The right to freedom of religion and belief is incredibly important, in the same way that the right to equality and to freedom from discrimination because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is.

…I’m reminded of a comment that archbishop and human rights advocate Desmond Tutu made in July 2013: ““I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.” I personally feel that this is how so many people think based on their religion, faith or belief. And that is our opportunity to make the present a more open, understanding and inclusive place to be for everyone.

Contributors include:

  • Dino Suhonic, Chairman of Maruf Foundation, European Queer Muslims Network, Florin Buhuceanu form the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, and Michaël Vermeulen from the European Buddhist Union, on the situation of LGBTI people within their traditions
  • Robin Sclafani, Director of A Jewish Contribution for an Inclusive Europe and Vice Chair of the European Network on Religion and Belief (ENORB)
  • Erica Howard, Associate Professor in Law, Scholl of Law, Middlesex University in London, on legal approaches to resolving conflicts between religious freedom and freedom from discrimination
  • Lorenzo Zucca, Professor of Law and Philosophy at King’s College London, on the use of conscientious objection claims by opponents of LGBTI rights
  • Michaël Vermeulen, a Buddhist inspired philosopher who studies philosophy, medicine and religious sciences at the University of Leuven in Belgium, on  common myths at the center of debates around LGBTI equality.

The Guardian has published photographs from Pride marches from around the world.

Australia: Some religious leaders oppose harsh refugee policies

Lester Feder and Soudeh Rad at BuzzFeed published an in-depth report on the abysmal living conditions for LGBT refugees being held in detention on Pacific islands to which Australia sends refugees intercepted at sea. BuzzFeed profiles Mohsen, a bisexual Christian convert from Iran after his uncle threatened to kill him, but who has now been held for two years on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.

Government officials have justified the policy as a way to discourage people-smuggling, and the country’s High Court upheld the constitutionality of the offshore detentions in a ruling issued on Wednesday that clears the way for 267 people — including 91 children — to be returned to Nauru after a period in Australia for medical care. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull applauded the ruling and vowed to continue the policy, saying that it ensures that “our borders are secure.”

Conditions at the Manus Island detention center are so bad that human rights advocates have alleged they violate international law. Amnesty International described it as “resembling a combination of a prison and a military camp.” Human Rights Watch compared it to Guantanamo Bay. The center even included a shower block that guards had allegedly nicknamed the “rape dungeon,” according to an account from someone who worked in the camp until early 2014.

There’s an added fear for queer asylum seekers like Mohsen. They worry about being targeted by others in the camp, who are mostly from Iran and other countries where homosexuality is criminalized, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. They also are afraid of Papua New Guinea’s police force because the country’s laws punish homosexuality with up to 14 years in prison.

“This place is no better than Iran,” Mohsen said. “I wish I had died on that boat 100 times a day.”

The Guardian’s Ben Doherty reports that the recent high court ruling upholding the government’s authority to carry out these hardline refugee policies has generated public backlash, particularly against plans to send 267 people to the island of Nauru, including 37 babies born in Australia to asylum-seeking parents.

However, while offshore processing has previously enjoyed consistent bipartisan support, the removal of the 267 to Nauru has met with massive public opposition within Australia, and led to a fracturing of political support.

Rallies under the banner of #LetThemStay have been held across Australia, attracting thousands to protests. Ten Anglican and Uniting church leaders have defied the law, invoking ancient right of sanctuary in offering their churches as refuges for those facing removal to Nauru.

Meanwhile, with the country’s prime minister sticking to plans to hold a plebiscite on marriage equality in 2017or 2018, the leader of the opposition Bill Shorten confirmed that he will march in Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade with his wife and three children to show his support for passage of marriage equality legislation.

Malawi: On appeal from pastors, court rejects moratorium on prosecutions under sodomy law

A court in Malawi ordered the country’s leaders to enforce a law criminalizing homosexuality after three pastors complained about a moratorium on such prosecutions that officials had put in place. The law criminalizes sexual conduct between men and calls for jail terms of up to 14 years.  Details from Malawi24:

The Mzuzu high court has ordered Malawi Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions to arrest people engaged in same-sex acts.

Judge Dingiswayo Madise made the order in Mzuzu on Monday and warned that any person who disobeys the order shall be guilty of contempt of court.

Madise said arrests should continue until there is a judicial review of government’s decision to stop prosecutions of gay people Malawi.

Three Mzuzu based pastors filed a court application to have same sex couples prosecuted arguing that laws of the country forbids homosexuals.

The three pastors, Tushalishe Mbeye, Patrick Banda and Christopher Kamasamba also argued that the Parliament has not yet reviewed laws that forbid gay acts.

Uzbekistan: President says God has taken gays’ reason away, homosexuality a western invention

President Islam Karimov “ranted about gay people in a televised meeting last week – claiming that homosexuality is a ‘vulgar’ Western invention,” reports Pink News, citing a video translated by Radio Free Europe.

“We talk about so-called Western culture. We call it vulgar culture. You know what I mean…

“When men live with men and women live with women, I think there must be something wrong up here [points at head].

“Something is broken here. There is a saying: When God wants to reveal someone’s vulgarity, he first takes his reason away.”

Uzbekistan’s population is overwhelmingly Muslim. Karimov has previously said that Western-style democracy would violate Uzbekistan’s “moral purity” because “it allows for or fosters the practices of homosexuality,” which he said is “disgusting” to Uzbeks.

Bermuda: Civil unions legislation proposed, protested

Last week the group Preserve Marriage Bermuda called for the government to hold a referendum on same-sex marriage. On Wednesday, the government unveiled civil unions legislation, with the Attorney General making clear that it had no intention of promoting marriage equality. Both proponents and opponents of civil unions and same-sex marriage protested this week in anticipation of the civil unions proposal.

The rally was peaceful, but vocal in its outright stand against same-sex marriage, with the biggest cheers going to an organiser who told the gathering that “a few do not decide for the many”.

“If the Bermuda Government is unwilling to stand strong for our society by upholding marriage as between a man and a woman, as previous governments have done for hundreds of years, then the voting population of Bermuda must decide about marriage equality — through a referendum, and not by unelected judges.”

The Government was also chided for failing to bring an appeal against a ruling by Ian Kawaley, the Chief Justice, that granted the foreign same-sex partners of Bermudians the same right as spouses to live and work in Bermuda.

Demonstrators were addressed by Michael Dunkley, the Premier, as well as Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, the Minister for Community, Culture and Sports, who reminded them that the Government had made no move to redefine marriage. Michael Weeks, the Shadow Minister of Health and Community Affairs, joined with the group Preserve Marriage, telling The Royal Gazette that he considered it a moral issue.

“An issue like same-sex marriage, which can radically change our society, if anything should go to the people as a referendum,” Mr Weeks said.

Despite the placards denying any position of bigotry, campaigner Tony Brannon said he was at a loss to understand why “people from churches who claim they believe in God want to discriminate against marriage equality”…

Allan and Mildred Hunt of Heart-to-Heart Ministries were among those outside Cabinet, with Mr Hunt saying he believes “wholly and solely in the traditional stand on marriage”.

“I’m glad the Rainbow Coalition are here today. We need to share. But nobody is trying to take their rights away. Every right I have, they should have,” Mr Hunt said. “Marriage should be between man and woman, but they should never be discriminated against. I know what it’s like. I came up in this country during hard days. But at the same time, I am here today.”

According to Preserve Marriage, the group has a task force of 400 people, and 9,000 signatures backing its petition for marriage to stay “a special union ordained by God between a man and a woman”.

Cindy Samuels, mother of two, told a reporter, “Marriage should be a union ordained by God. I raised my children with Christian beliefs. If you give same-sex marriage the same definition, it will reorder socity. You can call it something else – a civil union.”

Cameroon: LGBT advocates ask Pope to tone down local church leaders’ anti-gay rhetoric

A human rights advocacy organization, Alternatives-Cameroon, has appealed to Pope Francis to “get control” of Cameroonian church leaders’ anti-gay rhetoric:

The National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon held a meeting on Jan. 12 in Batouri, bringing together the bishops of Cameroon. This resulted in a unanimous appeal from the bishops to all Catholics to exhibit “good morality” by blocking the way to homosexuality, on the grounds that “this abominable thing that goes against nature risks becoming a social outbreak.”

We recalled that during the Synod on the Family, held a few months ago, the same prelate declared homosexuality to be a threat to the family. Cardinal Tumi [Cardinal Christian Tumi, the retired archbishop of Douala] even declared that homosexuality was a “threat to the human race.” Catholic lawyers depicted homosexuality to be a clinical pathology that should attract the attention of different hospitals….

This Church wants more than ever to set Cameroonians against each other, ignoring its mission to promote love, tolerance and peace. Has history not taught it a lesson? From slavery to the Holocaust to the Rwandan genocide — now it’s the turn of homosexuals.

If Pope Francis seems to have a more conciliatory approach to the subject, it is clear he is struggling to implant this approach within the church he leads.

Georgia: Church officials oppose marriage equality, ask police to protect advocate who proposes it

Civil rights lawyer Giorgi Tatishvili has urged the constitutional court to legalize marriage for same-sex couples, which reporter Giorgi Lomsadze calls “the first attempt to introduce LGBT rights in the conservative, predominantly Orthodox Christian country.” The effort drew opposition even from local human rights advocates. Church officials strongly opposed the plan but asked officials to protect Tatishvili from potential reprisals.

Georgia and the rest of the Caucasus are known for widespread homophobia. Three years ago an LGBT rally in Tbilisi was stormed by a crowd led by priests from the country’s influential Orthodox Church.

The church’s ruling body, the Patriarchy, distanced itself from the violence then and has recently called for police protection for Tatisvhili, suggesting his safety may be at risk.

“Although we find his initiative, let alone the passing of a [same-sex marriage] law, condemnable and completely unacceptable, acts of violence are also unacceptable,” the Patriarchy said in a statement. Tatishvili has not responded.

Human rights activists have also distanced themselves from Tatishvili’s petition amid concerns that it may lead to a backlash and further marginalise Georgia’s LGBT community.

“In an environment where LGBT groups are virtually banished from the public space… it is all but science fiction to speak about gay marriage and request the constitutional court to weigh in on it,” said Lasha Kavtaradze, spokesperson for the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre.

The Guardian notes that the European Union has tried to prevent LGBT rights from becoming an obstacle to closer tied with Georgia:

In Georgia, attitudes towards sexual orientation are linked to political orientation. While the country is largely pro-west, LGBT rights continue to feature as a sticking point towards moving closer to the European Union.

In 2014, on the eve of Tbilisi’s signature of an association agreement with the EU, pro-Russia groups and tabloids raised the prospect that this would lead to the eventual legalisation of same-sex marriage.

To receive the church’s blessing for the agreement, former EU commissioner Štefan Füleassured the Patriarchy that the treaty had no implications for policy on gay marriage.

The EU was also compelled to issue a so-calledMyth Buster that emphasised respect for Georgian values and noted that “not even EU member states are required to legalise gay marriage and several don’t recognise it”.

Ghana: Group trains paralegals to protect legal rights of LGBT people in face of attacks, criminalization

The guardian reports that the LGBT community faces attacks from multiple directions:

In the past few months, the bishop of Ghana’s methodist church delivered a speech criticising homosexuality, a law lecturer spoke on the radio calling for a “blistering crusade”, and a high-profile spiritualist cited tattoos as leading to “unexpected consequences” like homosexuality and prostitution.

The Guardian’s Chris Matthews profiles Solace Brothers Foundation, an LGBT advocacy organization in Accra, and the group’s founder Abu. Homosexual activity is a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in prison.

“The judges in Ghana who would normally handle LGBT rights are very homophobic and even though we have human rights lawyers who support us … generally, it is very hard to get support from [other] lawyers,” Abu explains.

In November, the foundation, established in 2012, trained its first 20 paralegals from the LGBT community in legal rights, counselling advice and security support, with the help of a local human rights lawyer, police representative and doctor.

The public can contact the group directly or on a dedicated hotline to seek assistance. The group has several paralegals in Accra and others in cities across the country.

“We are not making it about LGBT rights, we want it to be human rights … These are our rights, and as every other human being in Ghana we also have our rights,” Abu says.

Crimea: European Parliament condemns human rights abuses following Russian annexation

The European Parliament adopted a resolution last week condemning “unprecedented levels of human rights abuses” in the wake of Russia’s invasion and annexation of the territory. It reported specifically that the situation of LGBTI people has “substantially worsened” following the Russian occupation.

All LGBTI organisations and facilities in Crimea have had to cease their activities, due to the Russian federal law banning ‘homosexual propaganda’ as well as repression and threats from occupation authorities and paramilitary groups.

Tanja Fajon MEP, Vice-President of the European Parliament Intergroup on LGBTI Rights, reacted: “I am deeply concerned about the situation for LGBTI people in Crimea. With homophobic rhetoric coming from the highest levels, and violence going completely unpunished, it is no wonder that many see no other option than leaving the peninsula.”

“As an occupying power, Russia has a responsibility to ensure the safety of the whole population, including LGBTI people. I call on the EU Member States, the European Commission and the Council of Europe to maintain pressure on Russian authorities.”

Italy: Civil unions vote postponed

A planned Senate vote on civil unions bill was postponed until next week. Right-wing parties proposed about 5,000 amendments. ANSA’s Stefanio Fumo reports on divisions within the ruling Democratic Party (PD).

The PD earlier gave its lawmakers the freedom to vote their conscience on three amendments to the bill. One would scrap a provision allowing one partner in a civil union to adopt the other’s biological child, replacing this with so-called reinforced fostering. The so-called stepchild adoption provision is the most controversial part of the bill. Opponents, including some Catholic members of the PD, fear it will encourage gay couples to seek to have children with surrogate mothers abroad – a practice that is illegal in Italy. Proponents say that in Italy, children of gay parents risk ending up in the foster system if their biological parent dies, because the other parent has no legal custody of them. Italy is the only western European country not to have either legalised gay marriage or recognised civil unions between same-sex couples. The European Court of Human Rights has urged Italy to remedy this disparity between gay and straight citizens.

Portugal: Parliament overrides veto of adoption legislation

On Wednesday the Parliament overrode President Anival Cavaco Silva’s veto of legislation legalizing adoption by same-sex couples.

Russia: Court Shuts Human Rights Group

The regional court of Tatarstan issued a ruling on Wednesday dissolving the Agora Human Rights Commission in a suit that had been brought by the Justice Ministry. The Russian government targeted Agora under a law that is being used to brand human rights organizations as foreign agents. Human Rights Watch reports that Agora will appeal to the Supreme Court.

Agora, a network of lawyers and activists, is widely known for defending civil and political activists across the country. Agora’s lawyers have represented victims of political prosecution in numerous high profile court cases, including the case against the feminist punk group Pussy Riot; the criminal prosecution of Russia’s leading opposition politician, Alexei Navalny; and the recent infamous “terrorism” case against a Ukrainian filmmaker from Crimea, Oleg Sentsov, and his alleged accomplice, the Crimean activist Olexander Kolchenko.

“There is little doubt that Russian authorities want to paralyze Agora’s human rights work and are using the judicial system to accomplish this,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “For years, the government has been demonizing human rights groups and stifling them with bureaucracy. Now it’s starting to shut them down.”

Kenya: Man faces 14 years in prison for ‘sexting’

A Kenyan man, Godfrey Mburu, faces 14 years in prison after “sexting” a male journalist, reports Joe Williams at Pink News:

The reporter – who has not been named – said he gave his number to Mr Mburu after the pair met at a road show.

However, he later contacted police claiming that Mr Mburu had sent him a series of messages telling him he that he loved his voice and asking him for sex.

“Please, let us be lovers and let me show how sweet it is just like a woman. Why don’t you give it a try,” one message read.

The journalist said he decided to report Mr Mburu to the authorities after discovering he was a teacher.

Police officers then set up Mr Mburu – posing as the reporter, before arranging a meet up.

“When I reached at our agreed meeting point, I called him and a man came toward me wearing a huge smile and he got into my car and started a conversation,” the journalist told Nairobi News.

“That’s when the police officers who were on a motorbike came and surrounded him.”

Local county police boss Naomi Ichami confirmed the incident, saying she was “shocked” that a teacher tried “to solicit sex from a fellow man which means he is practicing gayism [sic]”.

Isle of Man: Marriage equality legislation gets second reading

A bill legalizing marriage for same-sex couples received its second reading. Chief Minister Allan Bell, a supporter of the legislation, said:

The fact that same sex couples can marry will have absolutely no effect on another person’s marriage, the Church of England and many other religious bodies. We’ll continue to maintain their view on what constitutes a marriage as only being a marriage between a man and a woman.

Nepal: Human Rights Commission asks government to implement marriage equality ruling

The National Human Rights Commission has asked the government to implement the Supreme Court’s 2007 ruling on marriage equality and a report on sexual minorities submitted last year.

India: Pride celebration draws thousands in wake of Court decision to reconsider sodomy law

Last Saturday’s 8th annual LGBT pride parade in Mumbai drew more than 7,000 people, according to dna’s Pranav Joshi.

On an installed podium, many people then made speeches, including equal rights activist Harish Iyer, Chitra Palekar, and other activists. The star cast of Hindi flick ‘Aligarh’ – which is based on the death of a gay professor after being kicked out of Aligarh Muslim University – was also present. Lead actor Manoj Bajpai spoke to the raucous audience about his support for the cause…

The Supreme Court had on December 11, 2013 overturned a 2009 Delhi High Court judgement decriminalising same-sex intercourse, thus re-instituting the legal penalty applicable under Section 377. But on February 2, 2016, during a hearing of the curative petition submitted by the Naz Foundation and others against the 2013 verdict, the apex court decided to submit the matter to a five-judge bench for consideration, thus bringing some hope to the LGBT community and its straight allies.

New Ways Ministry notes that Cardinal Oswald Gracias, who heads the country’s Catholic Bishops’ conference, has called for decriminalization of homosexuality.

Pakistan: Trans activists seek protection from violence

Transgender activists have called for better police response and protection after a series of attacks and threats against trans people.